Switzerland’s system of railways, long-distance buses and local transport is regarded as among the best in the world. Foreign visitors and residents soon get used to travelling by public transport here. It is quite possible to live without a car in a town, unlike in some other countries.
However, Switzerland has also developed a comprehensive road network that ranks among the safest in Europe. To read more about driving in Switzerland, click here.
Commuting by train
The Swiss Federal Railways runs a large network of rail connections and helps coordinate a bus system that reaches into just about every corner of Switzerland.
Timetables are available online as well as over a useful iPhone app that also allows for the purchase of tickets over the device using a credit card.
Many residents who frequently use the train system buy half-fare cards that give a 50% discount on journeys by most trains, buses and boats as well as discounts on some cable cars and special trains. Those who commute or travel by rail, bus or boat nearly every day opt for a “General Abonnement” (GA) travel card that allows for unlimited travel across the entire network.
Children under six ride for free. After that, a family card allows children to ride for free when accompanied by a parent. Passengers may bring bicycles and dogs on many trains for a fee.
Travelling with restricted mobility
Facilities and infrastructure for persons with disabilities have greatly improved in Switzerland in recent years. Persons with disabilities living in Switzerland have the right to a discount on the Swiss Federal Railways universal GA pass, depending on the severity and nature of the disability. You can find more information on the Swiss Federal Railways website.
Sightseeing by train
The average Swiss makes 59 train trips a year. In fact the Swiss use rail transport more often than any other nation in the world except the Japanese. For official statistics on transport and mobility in Switzerland, please visit Swiss Statistics.
The great railway viaducts and tunnels of the Albula/Bernina line in Graubünden have become a tourist attraction in themselves, and were awarded Unesco heritage site status in 2008. The highest railway station in Europe is at the spectacular Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland, at an altitude of 3,454 metres (11,330 ft.).
Road to rail
Switzerland and the Alps in general are on the north-south transport axis in Europe. A lot of road traffic goes through the Alps. To ease congestion and reduce environmental impact, the Swiss government has adopted a policy of getting freight traffic off the roads and onto rail.
The "rolling highway" moves trucks by rail across Switzerland from the southern German city of Freiburg to Novara in northern Italy. The Lötschberg Tunnel from the Bernese Oberland into canton Valais has been open since 2007. Passenger and commercial trains use the tunnel heavily and there are calls for it to be enlarged with two tracks.
The 57 kilometre (35.5 mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps officially opened on June 1 2016 as the longest railway tunnel in the world. Once full service is established at the end of 2016, it will carry high-speed trains for cargo and passengers, slashing travel times between Zurich and Milan.
Before the advent of railways, stagecoaches brought post and passengers through the Alps. To this day the Swiss Post operates a long-distance bus service covering mountain and rural routes not served by railways.
The buses and trains form a seamless web covering Switzerland, and the timetable of the “post buses” is carefully coordinated with those of connecting trains. In the major cities there are both trams (streetcars) and buses in operation. Ships and boats operate scheduled services on many of the Swiss lakes and rivers.
There is a major airport at Kloten, outside Zurich. It is served by Swiss International Air Lines, the successor to the original national carrier Swissair and now a subsidiary of Lufthansa. There are other airports near Geneva (Cointrin) and Basel (Euroairport), both of these being partly on French territory. Bern and Lugano also have small airports.